"Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world." - Todd Littleton
"I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see." - Anon
"Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all." - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
"Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut
"Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals." - Jim Forest
"People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone." - Anon
"... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all." - R.E. Slater
"An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst." - R.E. Slater
"Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics." - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
"Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated." - Emil Brunner
"Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Suggested Reading List





Half the Sky
Turning Oppression Into Opportunity
For Women Worldwide






From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.






Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate
the World's Children






John Wood discovered his passion, his greatest success, and his life's work—not at business school or leading Microsoft's charge into Asia in the 1990s—but on a soul-searching trip to the Himalayas. Wood felt trapped between an all-consuming career and a desire to do something lasting and significant. Stressed from the demands of his job, he took a vacation trekking in Nepal because a friend had told him, "If you get high enough in the mountains, you can't hear Steve Ballmer yelling at you anymore."

Instead of being the antidote to the rat race, that trip convinced John Wood to divert the boundless energy he was devoting to Microsoft into a cause that desperately needed to be addressed. While visiting a remote Nepalese school, Wood learned that the students had few books in their library. When he offered to run a book drive to provide the school with books, his idea was met with polite skepticism. After all, no matter how well-intentioned, why would a successful software executive take valuable time out of his life and gather books for an impoverished school?

But John Wood did return to that school and with thousands of books bundled on the back of a yak. And at that moment, Wood made the decision to walk away from Microsoft and create Room to Read—an organization that has donated more than 1.2 million books, established more than 2,600 libraries and 200 schools, and sent 1,700 girls to school on scholarship—ultimately touching the lives of 875,000 children with the lifelong gift of education.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World chronicles John Wood's struggle to find a meaningful outlet for his managerial talents and entrepreneurial zeal. For every high-achiever who has ever wondered what life might be like giving back, Wood offers a vivid, emotional, and absorbing tale of how to take the lessons learned at a hard-charging company like Microsoft and apply them to one of the world's most pressing problems: the lack of basic literacy.






The Holy Spirit & Pentecostal Teaching


Criteria for testing messages based on
unmediated experiences of God
Part 1
November 30, 2011

Since I mentioned the importance of unmediated spiritual experiences of God, several people here have inquired about criteria for testing them. Others have objected that positing objective criteria undermines the immediacy of the experiences.

Here I intend to propose some intersubjective criteria that all Christians should be able to agree on and use in testing messages, truth claims, brought forth as a result of unmediated experiences of God. I have in mind messages such as prophecies (whether forthtelling or foretelling), claims of new truths based on “rhema word,” etc. Insofar as an unmediated experience of God does not result in such messages, I see no need for criteria. Criteria become necessary when a person claims something was revealed to him or her that others should believe.

I offered these tests or criteria in an editorial in Christianity Today’s January 14, 1991 issue (p. 15). The cover story was about the so-called “Kansas City Prophets”–the controversy du jour among charismatics and some evangelicals. Rather than simply deny extra-biblical prophecy altogether, I (at the request of the editors), suggested these five tests for whether a prophecy (or other kind of extra-biblical message) MIGHT BE from God.

In other words, they are negative tests, like the law of non-contradiction in philosophy. They do not prove the validity of any message; they only function to raise red flags of warning over messages that might be false.

1) The Christ Touchstone. If a prophecy (or message) promotes Christ and not the prophet, it may be valid. (Put negatively, if a prophecy promotes the prophet over Christ, it is probably not valid.)

2) The Apostolic Norm. If it is consistent with the message of the gospel as found in the didactic writings of the New Testament, it may be valid.

3) The Unity Criterion. If a prophecy does not promote spiritual elitism or schism (based on the prophecy alone), it may be valid.

4) The Sanity Check. If it does not require the sacrifice of the intellect and the mindless acceptance of newly revealed teachings, it may be valid.

5) The Messiah Test: If it does not exalt some individual (or organization) into an object of veneration, it may be valid.

Paul ordered the Corinthian Christians not to quench the Spirit but to test all things. These criteria are simply tools for discernment.



More about direct revelations from God
Part 2
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/12/more-about-direct-revelations-from-god/

by Roger Olson
December 2, 2011

I have a long list of theological topics I want to address here, but they will have to wait. I am enjoying the conversation here about unmediated, direct experiences of God. When I was growing up I often heard that “a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument.” Well, I have come to doubt the validity of that statement if taken to an extreme of gullibility toward all claims of immediate experiences of God–especially insofar as they claim to bear “new truths” everyone should accept and believe and act on. Then I think argument (using my five criteria) is necessary.

But I think SOME people here may misunderstand what kinds of direct, unmediated experiences of God I believe in and think our evangelical churches need to be more open to.

First, there’s the inward experience of God in conviction and conversion. It may or may not be mediated through Word and/or sacrament. But even when reading of scripture provokes it (as in Wesley’s case) there can be, and often is, a sense of immediacy of God to the soul that is individual and intuitive (i.e., not amenable to proof or argument).

Second, there’s what I call “conversional piety”–the personal relationship with Jesus Christ in which God may speak directly to a Christian’s heart/mind giving guidance and direction beyond scripture [a sense of conviction, a sense of purpose, a sense of conscience, and so forth - re slater].

Third, there are “power encounters” such as healings, exorcisms, miracles. I have been in places where these are manufactured and, in my opinion, spurious. But I don’t discount them entirely. I’m sure God can still do these things and somewhere does. For the most part we evangelicals have simply relegated these things to the past or to other societies. [a friend of mine once said that we Americans have excluded God in our technologies and active/persuasive non-recognition of the divine - re slater]

Fourth, there are prophecies and words of wisdom and knowledge (no, I don’t know how to distinguish those and I would place “interpretation of tongues” in this same category)–divinely inspired messages directly from God to a person or group that transcend inward guidance for an individual. Many sermons have this character–or at least parts of them. I have known people who have heard God speak directly to them (and probably others in the listening audience/congregation) through a sermon with powerful, life-changing results.

[consequently, speaking God's active word to the ears of others may not result in the action desired, but perhaps create a hardening of hearts and wills instead. - re slater]

Unfortunately, both also happened in evangelical contexts relatively closed to such experiences and messages.

Many evangelicals outside the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have come to embrace these kinds of unmediated experiences of God. The difference is that in the Pentecostalism I grew up in, too often,

Evangelical scholars like Grudem and Moreland and others (often touched in some way by the Vineyard Fellowship or some other “Third Wave” ministry) argue that evangelicals should be open to such experiences and messages within a clear discernment process.

I think that, for the most part, evangelicals have taken the easy way and chosen to chase the Holy Spirit into the Bible.


A Personal Observation
Part 3
R. E. Slater
December 3, 2011

Introduction

I come from an evangelical tradition that misunderstood Pentecostalism's "charismatic gifts" of the Holy Spirit (I believe there were three - tongues, prophecy/revelation, healing). My tradition described these gifts as "Apostolic Gifts" that were used to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to both believers and unbelievers alike in the days of Christ's ministry. Moreover, they explained, that these gifts were then extended for usage through Jesus to His disciples (later understood to be more than the designated twelve disciples of Jesus we have come to associate with this term) during the days of His ministry.

Thereafter, on the advent of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit officially announced the risen presence of Jesus' ministry and glorified power on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1) by a "baptism in the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1-10) upon the gathered room of despairing believers. Once baptised these Jesus followers spoke in tongues and prophecies and performed other miraculous events using the Spirit's "signs and wonders" to proclaim the Gospel message of Christ to believers and unbelievers alike. First to Jerusalem (Ac 1-7). Then to Samaria (Ac 8). And finally to the Gentile world at large (Ac 10).

Further, my tradition also said that these "signs and wonders" and charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit became less vibrant as Calvary's cross receded further and further into the historical record. Perhaps within days or weeks of the event. Perhaps a few years or more after that. But eventually ceased altogether, especially with the passing of the Apostles (the gift of prophecy for instance). At which time the canon of New Testament Scriptures were closed so that no further revelatory instruction from God proceeded forth at the final laying down of the Apostle John's pen at Revelation's completion.

Years later, when still a young man, I was drawn for a short while into the world of Charismatic wonder and teaching. Explored it. And arrived at a separate, personal conclusion (not unlike Dr. Olson's discussion above). Which I will describe in the paragraphs below. This was my introduction into the evangelical side of Charismaticism. It lasted a brief two years and was abated when being reintroduced into the teachings of the bible on the Holy Spirit through a Spirit-filled church that was non-charismatic but didn't disparage the gifts of the Holy Spirit either. A church that was much more open to the Spirit's movement and filling perhaps because of the pagan culture it was surrounded by. Perhaps because of the Gospel's suppression and oppression within that university setting. I am not sure why. But I knew that this church's vibrant witnessed relied on the Spirit's power and testimony (and which would fit with the biblical usage of "signs and wonders" found within the early church's New Testament experience).

Miracles Announced New Covenantal Eras

Firstly, I would like to state that the gifts of the Holy Spirit should be distinguished from the miraculous events occurring around the period of Jesus' birth, ministry and death. Jesus' birth was announced by angels and prophets (John the Baptist, Zacharias of the temple, Elizabeth, etc). Jesus' ministry was full of miraculous signs and wonders. And Jesus' death was accompanied by both supernatural wonders and Spirit-inflamed men and women testifying of His resurrection and salvation.

Simply, without much further explanation at this point, miraculous "signs and wonders" are a mark of significant salvific epochal eras that have commenced (and which consequently conclude an older, passing, salvific era's transitional period). A kind of announcement, if you will, by God that He is doing something quite different from what He has been doing. These eras are marked by Covenants which begin (and seemingly end) with a flair of the supernatural. Examples are: (1) the Old Covenant commencing with Israel's deliverance from Egypt (10 plagues et al) and Moses receiving the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai (along with Israel's 40 year Wilderness journeys as God prepares them as His people). The (2) New Covenant that began with Jesus and continued through the Church Age. And, (3) the Kingdom Covenant to come when the events of the book of Revelation come alive and the Age of Man is finally displaced by Jesus' Rule and Reign that eventually will fold into a period known as (4) New Heavens and New Earth. Each period has been (or will be) marked by supernatural signs and wonders.

And on the reverse side, there is a correspondent activity of demonic or Satanic power. For instance, Pharaoh's sorcerers and magicians were able to produce look-alike "miracles" that would cause Pharaoh's stubborn heart to disbelieve God's message given to him through Moses. Through a series of events this time of "exodus" in the lives of the people of Israel would commence, or begin, the Old Covenant era (or time period) that would last until Jesus died and was resurrected, and the Holy Spirit created the church on the Day of Pentecost as a living society of believing Christ-ians. Another instance of demonic/Satanic power came at the formation of the New Covenant marked by Jesus' confrontation of demons through people He meets, or by events that occur around Him. Or, by Jesus' confrontation of Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His death. Or on the very Cross of Calvary itself. Then later, in the early Church's birth, as the New Covenant becomes operative, through the church's continual persecution and oppression at every step of its missional outreach from Jerusalem, to Samaria, and the Gentile world. Which we later understand to be the normative experience of the Church-at-large throughout the ages of man as shown through Paul's letters to the churches, and Peter's,  and John's. Including John's letter of Revelation revealing the intense spiritual warfare which will continually confront the church of God for its survival to keep to their faith throughout the length and breadth of the New Covenant Age (also known as the Church Age) and into the final times of Jesus' return. And during this New Covenantal era there will also be occurring an unseen war between the angelic realm with sin and devil until culminating in Revelation's narrative of the final rise of sinful man and fallen Devil that leads to the supernatural establishment of the New Kingdom to Come at Jesus' heavenly return that concludes the reign of man, sin and devil.

Thus, with each new covenant's arrival comes the displacement of the old covenant where new spiritual customs and traditions will arise to absorb and bade farewell to the old spiritual customs and traditions. And during these transitional times will also come both positive and negative supernatural events. Events from God and events not from God. Events that will fashion the newer covenant with newer content, purpose, activity, and meaning. As well as events that protest against its formation and continual renewal from generation to generation. And when these covenants are not renewed than sin and judgment will occur - as in Israel's case under the OT; or later, under the NT as the church presents its witness to the world. For in every succeeding generation both the covenantal community - as well as the society within outreach to that covenantal community's witness - is held accountable in each generation to obey God's word. When it is not obeyed than will come cycles of judgment, repentance and blessing. In today's terms the church is held accountable to be pure and actively obedient to God's will as it testifies of Jesus. When this does not occur, or if the gospel of Jesus is refused, then we may expect cyclical cycles within the church (and society) that will "rise and fall" in blessings or in judgment, from continent to continent as has been observed since the time of Calvary. And shall be observed in the future until the New Covenant era concludes in a culmination of global oppression, death, sin and destruction (known as the Great Tribulation and ending with the war of Armageddon under the Antichrist) concluding with Christ's return as prophesied in the book of Revelation.

During this time there will be miraculous events coupled with signs and wonders. These events and wonders distinguish the end of one covenantal era and the beginning of another covenantal era. We saw this with Moses before Pharaoh, Mt. Sinai; in Israel's Mt. Sinai and wilderness experience as the Tabernacle and its order of service, and the Torah's creation, were established. Afterwhich Israel (and the countries surrounding Israel) went through periods of blessing and judgment. This concluded with Jesus' birth, ministry, death and resurrection. The entirety of the OC era was concluded in Jesus. He received the blessings and the curses of God as the Messiah representative of the people of Israel. In Him was concluded the Old Covenant.

And in Jesus was begun the New Covenant. By His body and His blood. By His incarnation, anointment, ministry, passion, sacrifice and ascension. He became both the Lamb of God for the sins of Israel; the Priest of God as mediator; the Altar of God for atonement; the Tabernacle of God for provision and worship; the pillar of Fire by night and the cloud of Smoke by day as heat and shade for the tribes of Israel; verily He was Israel's burning heart of conviction as well as their merciful God of forgiveness; Jesus was the Table of God set before Israel in the wilderness of their sin; He was the prophet of God come to save His people from sin; He was the very announcement of God for salvation; He was Messiah born in a lowly stable before angelic song worshipping their King of Kings. As the Old Covenant ended in Jesus, so too did the New Covenant begin in Jesus. And likewise will the Kingdom era be initiated, ratified, and governed by this same Risen Jesus in the Age to Come.

God's Communion with Man

In a differentiating sense, today's gifts of the Holy Spirit under the New Testamental Covenant in Jesus no longer mark the announcement of the New Covenant. That has already occurred. But, in another sense, they mark the continuation of this era's redemptive power first begun with Jesus - its very Author and Sustainer. At first, God's "signs and wonders" began as announcements testifying to His Son's ministry. But later, they "quieted down" or "adapted", as the New Covenant age became normative (if normative can even be used when speaking of the Holy Spirit's power and ministries!). They smoothed out, as it were, becoming the standardized elements of the Christian life experience with the God of Salvation. So that our Christian experience as believers and follower's of Jesus, is marked with God's continual presence in our life. That very presence is both powerful and supernatural. It is the very definition of what it means to be a born-again believer who is more engaged with God than when he once was as an unconverted non-believer of Christ.  (At some later time, I would like to make the further case that the Holy Spirit's gifts and ministries were actually the non-normative experience of Spirit-filled Old Testament believers as well. Not just of prophets, priests and kings, but of any OT believer trusting God for something - Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Joshua, Samuel, Gideon, etc. However, I will not make that case today in this article).

Which brings up an interesting point. The Bible teaches that God's supernatural presence is likewise with every person NOT acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior. NOT following Jesus. NOT believing in the Messiah Christ. This is based upon God's Sovereign Personage that Christianity teaches. God is not simply an inhuman thing, an infinite force, a vast creative power, but He is, within the centrality of His being, a Person in fellowship within a Trinity known as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is ONE God in THREE Persons. For without this fellowship there can be no personage. More specifically, no relational personage. That personage would otherwise be autistic, as it were, towards ITS relationship to creation and to mankind. But as a Personage bearing a Trinitarian fellowship can come the naturally occurring expansion of divine fellowship in constant and continual relationship to creation and to mankind (see - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-should-we-read-bible.html). That personage would not be autistic but personable, knowable, malleable in His relationships to the cosmos and to His image-bearers. This speaks to a concept known as relational theism.

Thus, God must relate and communicate to creation and mankind. This is the very definition of God. He is personal, loving, caring, good, merciful, helping, assisting, present and knowing. And consequently, He directs each life towards Himself until that life comes to a fuller understanding of who He is and what He has done through His Son. If this is not so then how do we come to God? On our own? Not according to the sin that is within us. Nor the world and devil that would blind us to God's presence by doubt, argument, lies and deception. However, for the follower of Christ, the experience of God is as a Father to a son, that are in communion one with the other. As versus communing with God through man's philosophies, or through nature, or some other fashion. Though these can be rich spiritual experiences, they are not the same as communing with God through the revelation of Himself through His Son Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. Who is fully God as he was fully man. Thus, God's final, fullest expression of communion lies in Himself. Through His redemption of man at Calvary's Cross. This communion provides the fullest expression of man's communion with God. None other. And this in itself is another kind of miracle, sign or wonder that has come to not only the Christian believer, but all mankind, in God's continual presence, witness, and work in each, and every, human life. Seeking our salvation and redemption to Himself through Jesus.

Ephocal v. Normative Covenantal Miracles

In any case, what I am trying to say is that epochal Covenantal miracles should be differentiated from normative Covenantal miracles - the latter being based after the commencement of a Covenantal Age. The one kind of miracle is used by God as an announcement of a new salvific era. The other kind of miracle is used of the Christian life that has as its starting point the preceding, historically initiated, salvific era. So there is the time element here which speaks to the charter and constitution of a covenantal era's establishment - and in our case, to the New Covenant established in Christ Jesus. Moreover, because of the time element, only those Christians during living during the time of Jesus' life, ministry, death and resurrection would participate as eyewitnesses to these supernatural, ephocal, events. Which events would also include the initiation of the New Covenant through the Spirit to the believers of Acts 1-10 on the Day of Pentecost, as Christ's Gospel spread from Jerusalem to Samaria and then into the Gentile world.

So that what we have now is the quality or characteristic of the New Covenant that marks every believer reborn in Jesus. These are normative characteristics of Christians baptised in the Spirit of Christ and "waking up" to discover their "new covenantal relation" with God through Christ Jesus their Lord and Savior. They are normative for all Christians today because they are part-and-parcel of what it means to be a Spirit-baptised believer. Which I use in the strictest, most narrow sense in description of being born again. We are born again by faith, but that faith is meaningless if we are not born of the Spirit, Romans 9.9 - "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him."

Jesus calls this new birth a birth by water and by the Spirit. Water signifying the baptism in Jesus (which the Church celebrates by water baptism in various forms) . And Spirit signifying the believer's baptism in the Holy Spirit which is marked by God as the sina-qua-non descriptor of a believer's faith. To be in Jesus is to be baptised, or indwelt, into (and by!) the Spirit of God. Our faith proclamations ring hollow if we are not Spirit-birthed. It is through faith that we are born again. And with that faith comes Spirit rebirth, regeneration, transformation, conformation to the will and word of God. It is no simpler than this. Nor no harder. But it is sublime and changes everything for that believing man or woman or child. And when we doubt our faith it is to the Spirit that we place our trust for that born-again faith. Not ourselves. For it was, and is, and ever will be, an external event to our internal confidence in Christ as our Lord and Savior. This should be a comfort to us knowing that we are possessed, indwelt, sealed, and owned by the Comforter of God who is the Holy Spirit personage of the Godhead.
  • Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3.5; context John 3:4-6)
  • That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3.6; context John 3:5-7)
  • "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3.8; context John 3:7-9)
  • But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. (Gal 4.29)
Consequently, if you are born again then you have been baptised into the Spirit. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Empowered. That is your positional standing. However, your personal experience in this life of flesh, sin and death may be otherwise, and most likely will fluctuate up and down in your faith walk and testimony.

The Every Day Wonder of God

Further, the experience of every believer is miraculous not only because of (1) God's presence in our previous non-believing state; nor (2) because of our formative spiritual rebirth, but (3) because the Spirit of God is presently active as a living dynamic who is in constant communication with the child of God. EVEN as He is within the world of mankind itself (which I prefer to kindly think upon as "God's children" in a non-strict connotation). So that our normative experience of the Spirit is actually quite non-normative. In fact, it is miraculous. And we are participants in the miraculous. Just like we can have daily communication with our family and friends, so too God communicates with His family of born-again believers through His spirit. God is spirit just as man is spirit. And within the Godhead of the Trinity He is known as the Holy Spirit.

It is our standard, normative experience of God - that is a miraculous, non-normative experience of God! - that can, and will, break out into our lives in unexpected, and powerful ways. And yet, because God's spirit moves in the quietude of our lives, between the cracks of existence, like the air that surrounds us, so too does His power and filling and direction undergird the believer in the totality of his life experience. Whether for ill or for good. God is there. He will protect you despite death, sin, evil or devil. You are His, and will be throughout eternity no matter the destruction done to our body and soul; our family, community or possessions; our heritage and lands.... In it all God will remove every tear and bind every wound. This is His promise to His children.

And it is this commitment of God to us that means infinitely more than any mere desire to see "signs and wonders" in our lives to prove His existence, love or care. For God is our everyday miracle, even while He is everyday performing "signs and wonders" within our feeble lives unseen and unobserved (see my Synchronicity article for more here). And through our lives. And between the cracks of our existence whether we know it or not. It is like the air that surrounds us. We breath it and don't realise it's intake. But it's there with our every breath, infilling us with God's life. God's care. God's love. Protecting us against evil. Against darkness. Against the wickedness of man or the harm of sin-racked creation, whether floods, tornadoes, storms or earthquakes. He is there. And ever and always will be there as your God and Savior. Trust Him and He will do the rest. This is the everyday, non-normative experience of every believer born in the Spirit of God. It is miraculous. It is sublime. It is full of wonder and pregnant with the miraculous signs of God's loving bond between the believer and Himself. (And, might I mention, to every man seeking God. Whether he knows it or not. God is there seeking him).

The New Covenant Age of the Church...
Is the New Covenant Age of the Spirit

For starts (and here is where I have blended my traditional views with my charismatic views), all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are always present in all the eras of the church age, and within our lives specifically.  These are unrelated to the "closing of the canon of Scripture" and Apostolic witness. But are precisely based upon the Holy Spirit Himself, in that His relationship with the believer (as well as with mankind in general) is always active and communicative to us. For it is within the Holy Spirit's nature to communicate the person and work of God to our daily lives and surroundings. For that same Spirit is the very spirit of God Himself. They are one and the same. The third person of the Trinity is the very Godhead, and vice-versa. This is the mystery and wonder which is God.

In other words, without resorting to any additional criterion but very the person of the Holy Spirit Himself we may say that God's word-and-work is always active and participatory as a regular, normal functioning of what it means to be a "born-again child of God" (as well as part of humanity itself,. For God ever reaches out to all men everywhere, as well as to creation itself, as He recreates its "renewal" ecologically). Thus, God is always speaking to us. He is always directing us into His will (whether expressed or otherwise). He is always seeking our obedience and observance that would speak of His love and grace. Mercy and truth. Justice and compassion. This is man's normal, regular, everyday experience of God in His personage and in His relationship to creation (a theme that I have begun to call "Relational Theism".

The Purpose of Holy Spirit Empowerment

We must then ask as a necessary consequence, "What then is that will of God?" For myself, I understand it to mean that we are to testify of God's love and grace through Jesus Christ in as many innumerable ways as possible. Using all of our talents, our skills, our possessions and positions, our relationships and inventions. In as many unique forms as we possibly can to communicate God to others (as well as to ourselves in times of doubt, distress, or tiredness).

What then of the three charismatic gifts that were at one time excluded from my lexicon of Christian experience? For myself, I understand them now to be fully operational and added back into the bible as veritable truths. But with a difference not commonly understood by either side. Let me explain.

The Gift of Prophecy

As concerning prophecy, I too am open to God's work through my life and other people and events. I don't deny the supernatural. Nor the miraculous. Though I do understand them in a differentiating sense as mentioned above.  Moreover, I "test the spoken word of men (and angels)" to the criteria Dr. Olson quite ably listed at the outset of our discussion. But additionally, have lowered my resistance and barriers to God as much as is feasibly possible. When others speak, I listen. When others work, I observe and perhaps participate within this experience. I test the spirits to see whether they are of God or of men (works of flesh or of false prophets). To see if Jesus is praised and glorified. Not myself. Not the works of my hands. Not to effectual harm of others in conscience, in exclusion from community, or in judgment.

More plainly, prophecy proclaims God effectively and powerfully in personally unsettling ways and non-typical teachings than we normally experience or hear. For me, a good positive example would be that of Emergent Christianity's message. I doubted it for a long while (and with good reason... but more on this in a moment...) before finally coming to participate in it's renewal of Christianity.

Another example I can think of (in the negative sense) is that of religious folklore, or the religious customs and traditions, that were errantly appealed to as necessary dogmatic expressions to my faith experience by my Christian church and friends. But God deemed these traditions and customs as idols to my faith and sent a word of prophecy to my spirit to discern and disrupt those misleading religious conventions. God said to lay down, and not participate, in the idols of judgment and gossip, condemnation and unlove, safe teachings and safer worship. To reach beyond my denomination's religious conventions to those "outsiders" who are not among us, as Jesus once did when He ministered to sinners and the irreligious turned off by the religious institutions of their day. In fact, Jesus was so successful at doing this that He created a firestorm of hatred by the religious Sadducees and Pharisees, the self-appointed protector guardians of Israel's bankrupt faith. They hated Jesus because He spoke against their "religion". And this is what I am referring to as the idols of religious folklore, conventions, and tradition's (for more on this subject go here - "Christian Smith - Introduction: The Bible Made Impossible". The prophetic teaching of better discerning men and women more experienced with the foibles of the popularized Christian faith message became the vanguard of a newer, more loving, more expansive message of Christ's gospel than what the regional faith communities were communicating around me.

Prophecy then is the plain tell of God's communicated will and word to us. Usually at significant times in our lives when we have become too comfortable with God. Too at ease with His word. With His people. With God's ministries in general. And in the case of emergent Christianity, it took me about ten years to determine whether this movement was a new Gnostic movement of mysticism, confusion, and false teaching. As it first seemed to me as it wandered in-and-out of Christian sectarianism; created a subjectively-defined revisionism of Church history; sought a form of naive deconstructivism rather than a more proper theo-sophic deconstructivism (and the necessary constructivism that consequently follows); and promoted liberal political policies ill defined to capitalism's less-socialistic structure. It seemed to wander from New Age practices and theories to good-will humanitarian practices full of human-spirit. And before all of this, a group of well-meaning Christians infiltrated our emerging church and sought to impose a form of Judaism upon the congregation. Proposing to fill the Christian faith with dead OT customs of diet, calendar dates, dress and law. Recommending a Judaihistic form of Christianity rather than a Messianic Christianity that respects the past but does not return to it.

Eventually it sorted itself out, and I later concluded that the Emergent Christian Church movement that was being birthed around me was largely misunderstood and being very being badly communicated by illiterate and ignorant Christians who really didn't know themselves. And as time went on God directed their hearts and discernment to better behold and speak this newer brand of Christianity - seemingly so new, so radical. In effect, God gave to us, this baby Christian community, prophetic insight into the do's and don'ts of Emergent Christianity (helped quite a bit by the provocation that occurred from other branches of the church through disapproving faith congregations and denominational heads-of-state).

From the outset the desire of emergent Christians was to speak of the Christian mission and the Gospel of Christ to the world in less acrimonious and judgmental terms. To be more open to loving the unlovable. To remove and destroy the withholding idols of evangelical religion so that Jesus Himself could be seen (deconstruction v. construction). All the while, I prayed and sought God both for these individuals and for my own individual direction. As a result, the testimony of this web blog can now attest to a fuller idea of what Christianity should be (regardless of movement or label). And I believe that this was done by God's spirit when giving to me His prophetic word of wisdom, illumination, revelation and instruction.

Lastly, as concerning prophecy, I believe a good preacher, or an expressive Christian, can speak God's word-and-will powerfully. In socially coercive, and expressive, ways. Non-charismatics call this "forthtelling" while charismatics call it "prophecy." Neither group understands these words to be extra-canonical (that is, to be included in the canon of Scripture). But both groups can believe it to be the normal, operative work of the Holy Spirit expressed by the Godhead itself, into our work-a-day world and life experiences. God has the habit of "making clear" to us what we must say and do, when we learn not to quench or resist His Spirit. When this happens it can be powerful. Unexpected. Remarkable. Invigorating. Inviting. Penetrating.

The Gift of Healing

Secondly, I believe God heals. When asked to participate in the healing ceremony of someone I know, I go at the invite. But it is up to God either to heal or not to heal. In my most recent, sad experience, the beloved wife of a friend died a tragic death nonetheless. However, I believe that even through this experience of suffering and death there occurred healing.... How? Through that person's soul and life affairs, her husband and family, and even her friends and those who assisted her through her time of turmoil. Healing occurred. But in this case it was not physical healing. (see the sidebar "Ed's Story" for more on this subject).

I have also experienced healing from God and have heard its testimony of healing from unexpected friendships made with Christians and non-Christians alike. Mostly, this healing has been to my spirit and soul, family and friendships, at work and within community somewhere. Ungodly things like anger, envy, bitterness, hatred, gossip, ill-will, and so forth. Sinful baggage that keeps us from living the life that God fully wants us to have and experience. Like dark closeted secrets and skeletons we dare not share nor let lose for fear that God would love us less. God's spirit of healing comes to these situations and resolves our sin, our fears, our griefs and torments and gives to us good hearts full of light and life that can be shared with so many destroyed around us. Though physical healing is often prayed for, I find myself more often praying for the spiritual healing of people's abandoned souls, unloved spirits, and broken hearts. I think this is God's gift of healing that I read of in the Bible, more often than not, than the standard Pentecostal, or Charismatic teaching, on the subject.

The Gift of Tongues

Lastly, lest I neglect the gift of tongues, I will note with you the use of the Greek work "glossia" (English, "glossary") from which we get the word "tongues" in the New Testament. When glossia is used it is always used in an evangelistic setting where an apostle or Jesus followers are speaking the Gospel to others ignorant of Jesus' redemptive work. They speak in non-native tongues and consequently must hear in their tongue. Apparently, God's emissaries are gifted to speak in that dialect or speech so that the Gospel is heard and understood.

Modern day examples of this may be missionaries that we know who rapidly pickup a language in order to communicate Christ. I know a very young man who we have followed here from time to time (sidebar - Missions: Sojourneys - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/09/sojourneys-update-isaan-thailand.html) who, in the space of nine months, learned Thai. He was an ex-skateboarder traveling with KKSM ministries, born and bred in West Michigan, with no foreign language or culture background. But his heart was burdened that he could not speak Jesus to the Thai around him and God gifted him with that ability as he rapidly consumed and studied the language. More amazing still is that he learned this language without the help of a grammar aide or premier. By comparing the KJV Bible he had with a purchased Thai Bible (Wycliffe?) he taught himself the language's correct spellings and grammars when conversing with native Thai people. To me this is amazing, if not miraculous, and an evident gift of tongues by the Holy Spirit.

Let me stretch this paradigm a bit further.... I often think of "tongues" when found in an unlikely group of people foreign to me and my background. When I have been placed into these circumstances - perhaps with gang members I'm working with; past Chinese groups I became friends with in college; Caribbean island peoples and Central American cultures when travelling;  even gender-based cultures once foreign to myself - I've found God to give me the ears and tongue to listen and speak powerfully within those circumstances. Even though the language we are using is English, the culture itself was uniquely different from mine own. It required "extra radar" as it were to piece together the needs and wants of those individuals and communities as Christ was testified to. In this instance I understood it as a gifting of the Spirit to be able to communicate (both verbally AND non-verbally) within cultural situations even though the same language of English was being used. I was gifted by the Spirit to speak of Christ to people dissimilar to mine own heritage and background.

Summary

So then, when charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are thus framed within the experience of humanity they become understood as the normal, regular experience of any man (saved or unsaved) hearing God's word and will and responding accordingly. It also works in reverse when we think of Pharaoh's stubborn and hardened heart. Or the religious leaders of Jesus' day. To disobey God's expressed word and will can harm us for we are effectually refusing the Spirit's testimony of Jesus which is blasphemy. Though I don't believe the Bible teaches that blasphemy of the Spirit can ever stop God from reaching out to us; it does however, sour and sear our heart from hearing as well as we could. In those cases God may create bigger life disturbances to awaken us from our deathly slumber. In Israel's case He sent prophets. They refused to hear His word. Then God sent judgment. Eventually they woke up and either died in their sins (like Pharaoh of Egypt) or repented from their sins (like Nehemiah and Jonah). Let us not provoke God so far. Let us be of humbler stock and readily invite Him in. Give ear to His word and seek His will!

Thus, I don't need to speak in angelic tongues nor have angelic interpreters to interpret for me. It makes no sense. For when we're used of God in other's lives we have become "like as to angels" - which in the Greek means "messengers" (angelos). In other words, we are become the very angelic messengers of God's word sent to speak His words of ministry. We have become like Christ Jesus our Lord who came to heal and bind up the wounds of humanity's ills and brokenness. Who has done (and is doing) the same for us (and in us presently). Christ didn't use the language of angels but the language of love. He spoke in a tongue that could be understood. He needed no further interpreter than that of the Holy Spirit. He lived and ministered in a clarity that was refreshing. Christ prophesied of God. Of the Kingdom of God to come. Of His passion. His death. His resurrection. Of the Comforter to come. In all three of gifts of the Spirit Jesus is our example. He healed. He spoke in tongues. He prophesied. These are God's gift to us when understood aright and not misled in our human wills and sinful hearts (like Simon the magician who sought the Spirit's power when converted to Christ but initially misunderstood the Spirit's ministry to a broken humanity - Acts 8).

And finally, if we speak in this kind of a "heavenly language" then it is enough. It is not self-edifying. And it does not waste the time of another believer in the task of interpretation, when that time could be better used in reaching out the Gospel to the lost and unsaved. An activity that should be enough as evidence to God's power and testimony. For we need look no further for spiritual evidences than the saving power and healing of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men and women telling one-and-all of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and living in obedience to Him.